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A second chance for SYRIZA and a challenge for the movement against austerity

After such dramatic events, it comes as a surprise that the September 20 election in Greece did not significantly alter the composition of the parliament. The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) won a surprisingly clear victory and Alexis Tsipras will return to being the country’s Prime Minister. Voter turnout was very low by historical standards.

In a highly troubling development, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party slightly increased its support to 7 percent, and reportedly was the most popular party among the unemployed. Much of the top GD leadership are on trial for running a criminal organization after the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a party supporter. Just days before the vote, GD leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos accepted “political responsibility,” though not criminal responsibility, for the murder.

SYRIZA won slightly over 35.5 percent of the vote and received 145 out of 300 seats in parliament. Its right-wing, anti-austerity coalition partner defied pollsters’ predictions and cleared the 3 percent threshold to win 10 seats. The SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition will continue with a reduced majority, but without the burden of SYRIZA’s internal left wing.

The conservative New Democracy party is set to remain in opposition after it received only 28 percent support. Like SYRIZA’s total, this is roughly the same share as the party received in the election held in January of this year.

There was minor movement in the center of bourgeois politics, with an alliance between PASOK and Democratic Left gaining ground slightly and “The River” doing worse than expected. The new “Union of Centrists” also managed to win seats in the legislature.

In a disappointment to many left-wing opponents of Greece’s brutal austerity regime, Popular Unity fell just short of the 3 percent threshold to enter parliament. This was the grouping formed by the Left Platform faction and others on the left wing of SYRIZA, who split after Tsipras signed up to the third memorandum. ANTARSYA, a coalition of smaller communist tendencies, received 0.8 percent support, enough to push Popular Unity past the goalpost but programmatic disagreements prevented the establishment of a joint list. The ex-SYRIZA radicals have vowed to fight on organizing mass resistance to austerity in the tradition of the “no” movement that arose in the run-up to the July 5 referendum.

There was no change at all in the performance of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) compared with the election in January. The KKE had as its main campaign slogan “You have tried them [the other electoral parties], now the solution is to be found on the path to the overthrow of the system, joining forces with the KKE.” With an electoral system like Greece’s and in a highly polarized political environment, election results can be a good barometer of the broader impact of an organization in society. Even after SYRIZA agreed to such harsh new austerity, seeming to confirm the KKE prognosis, the Communist Party has proven incapable of drawing in additional support – a performance that raises serious questions about its tactical approach.

When the revolutionary left is unable to establish itself as a strong alternative, the fascist right wing is historically the beneficiary. With the departure of Popular Unity, the majority of anti-Memorandum members of parliament are from Golden Dawn. This is a dangerous sign for the anti-austerity movement, which may find its solidly left-wing orientation in jeopardy.

That the configuration of parliamentary forces would be basically unchanged by the unprecedented historical experience Greece just went through seems to defy logic. Poor and working class Greeks have put up militant resistance throughout the long economic crisis, but in this most recent period the struggle in parliament and at the negotiating table had taken center stage. The results seem to indicate that there are narrowing avenues to pursue the people’s struggle in the electoral arena.

The movement in the streets has the power to dramatically alter the balance of forces. In the coming days the country’s left and working class will be grappling with the key questions related to the beginning of a new stage in the struggle for the rights of the people and a socialist Greece.

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